Substance Use

Is Alcohol a Drug? Exploring Its Classification & Effects

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How is Alcohol Classified?

Alcohol, while commonly consumed worldwide, is technically a drug with a range of effects on our system. It primarily functions as a depressant, dampening various activities within the brain and body.

Despite its widespread use, many overlook alcohol’s classification as a drug. Dive deeper into its nature and impact on health with this detailed exploration of alcohol and its implications.

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Is Alcohol a Drug?

Yes, alcohol is a drug. As a depressant drug, it slows down vital functions, leading to reduced inhibitions and altered behavioral health. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has extensively documented how alcohol affects both the physical and mental well-being of individuals.

Especially among young people, there’s a misconception that alcohol is harmless. However, consistent misuse can lead to long-term effects, including alcohol dependence. It’s crucial to differentiate between casual consumption and the dangerous threshold of alcohol poisoning. (1)

Moreover, with the rising trend of mixing alcohol with substances like cannabis and amphetamines, the risks multiply. Such combinations can lead to severe impairment, blackouts, and even life-threatening situations.

Is Alcohol a Controlled Substance?

Alcohol is considered a drug, but it is not classified as a controlled substance. Alcohol is an intoxicating beverage that has been around for centuries and is used worldwide.

Historically, attempts like Prohibition in the U.S. tried to control alcohol consumption but were unsuccessful. Given its global prevalence and cultural significance, governments have regulated its production and sale rather than ban it outright.

It is made from fermented grains, fruits, or vegetables and contains ethanol (ethyl alcohol).

1. What Is a Controlled Substance?

According to the National Cancer Institute, government control over certain drugs and substances is necessary to prevent drug abuse, addiction, and illegal possession.

For example, medications such as morphine or Valium require a prescription from a doctor due to their potential for misuse. Other controlled substances like heroin are illegal in the United States since they have no known medical use.

According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, examples of controlled substances include:

  • Stimulants like cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Marijuana
  • Methamphetamine
  • Ecstasy (MDMA)
  • LSD (acid)
  • PCP (angel dust)
  • Prescription opioids such as OxyContin®, Vicodin®, Percocet®
  • Benzodiazepines such as Valium®, Xanax®
  • Barbiturates such as Seconal
  • Hallucinogens like psilocybin mushrooms
  • Inhalants like nitrous oxide (laughing gas)

These drugs are illegal to possess without a valid prescription from a doctor.

2. Why Isn’t Alcohol Classified as a Controlled Substance?

Alcohol is widely used and readily available, which would make it difficult to classify it as a controlled substance. Prohibition was unsuccessful in banning alcohol in the United States. Therefore, governments generally regulate its production and sale instead of prohibiting it.

What Type of Drug Is Alcohol, and What Does That Mean for Your Body?

Alcohol is a psychoactive drug that inhibits activity in the central nervous system (CNS), leading to a range of effects, from slurred speech and impaired coordination to slower reaction times.

When someone is binge drinking, they may experience nausea or vomiting due to their body’s inability to metabolize the alcohol as quickly as it is consumed. These symptoms can result in dehydration if not addressed promptly.

Other short-term side effects of heavy drinking include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Slowed breathing
  • Reduced motor control
  • Confusion
  • Impaired vision, hearing, and reaction time
  • Alcohol overdose

Are you or a loved one struggling with substance abuse? At Zinnia Health, we understand the challenges of addiction and offer personalized support. Our inpatient rehab gives clients 24/7 care from experienced medical and mental health professionals. After completing the program, various outpatient treatment options are available to extend and maintain sobriety. Give us a call anytime at (855) 430-9439.

What Are the Effects of Alcohol Abuse?

Alcohol abuse has been linked to an increase in anxiety and depression as well as a decrease in cognitive abilities such as judgment and decision-making.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an average of 32 Americans lose their lives every day due to car accidents caused by drunk driving.

1. Alcohol’s Effect on Your Body

Alcohol, as a depressant, slows down the central nervous system. This can lead to various effects, from mild drowsiness to severe impairment.

Binge drinking in particular can overwhelm the body, leading to potential alcohol poisoning and other health risks. Chronic alcohol abuse can lead to physical dependence, meaning someone needs alcohol to function normally.

According to a report published in the National Library of Medicine, withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Shaking hands
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Increased heart rate

Long-term alcohol use can also increase the likelihood of critical medical issues such as:

  • Liver disease
  • Memory loss
  • Cardiomyopathy (heart disease)
  • Cerebrovascular disorder (stroke)
  • Cancers in the mouth/throat/liver
  • Pancreatitis
  • Hypertension
  • High blood pressure

2. Alcohol’s Effect on Your Brain

When alcohol enters the bloodstream, it is dispersed throughout the body, including to the brain, where its action on specific neurotransmitters can alter emotions and actions.

Alcohol binds with these receptors in a way that causes an increase in dopamine levels, leading to feelings of pleasure or euphoria.

The euphoria produced by alcohol’s action on the brain is what gives some people enjoyment despite potential drawbacks like hangovers or brain damage that may arise from long-term use.

Alcohol also has sedative effects, making someone feel relaxed or sleepy after consuming large amounts.

3. The Consequences of Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse is not just about the immediate intoxication; it’s the ripple effect it creates in one’s life. From the primary impairment of judgment leading to risky behaviors to the long-term health consequences, the spectrum is vast. Blackouts, a frequent aftermath of heavy drinking, can lead to memory lapses and dangerous situations. (2)

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health has highlighted the increasing trend of mixing alcohol with prescription drugs, leading to unpredictable outcomes.

The public health implications of alcohol misuse, especially when combined with substances like amphetamines or depressant drugs, are concerning. The societal impact, from the loss of productivity in the workplace to the strain on healthcare systems, underscores the need for comprehensive interventions.

4. Alcohol’s Psychological Effects

Heavy drinking can also cause psychological problems such as anxiety disorders or suicidal thoughts because it impairs decision-making abilities and increases impulsivity, leading people into dangerous situations they would not usually take part in while sober.

5. The Social Consequences of Excessive Drinking

Excessive alcohol consumption doesn’t just affect the individual; it has ripple effects. Socially, it can strain relationships, lead to conflicts, and even result in legal troubles.

Heavy drinking can also have severe social consequences, such as:

  • The loss of friends due to inappropriate behavior while intoxicated
  • Family and interpersonal conflict
  • Violent behavior or criminal activities

6. The Financial Consequences of Excessive Drinking

The financial consequences of excessive drinking can be severe, as someone may find themselves having to pay hefty fines for DUI or DWI offenses or medical bills due to health issues caused by chronic alcohol use.

Excessive drinking can lead to job loss due to missed workdays and poor performance in the workplace.

How Much Alcohol Is Safe To Consume?

Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that men limit their alcohol consumption to no more than two drinks per day. For women, the recommended amount is no more than one drink a day.

Women should be extra cautious when it comes to drinking as they tend to have a lower tolerance level and may experience more of the adverse effects of alcohol than men.

Guidelines for Safe Alcohol Consumption

Moderation is key. While occasional drinking can be part of social events, it’s crucial to know your limits. Adhering to recommended guidelines can help prevent the adverse effects of alcohol and ensure you enjoy it responsibly.

How Can You Seek Help for Alcohol Addiction?

Taking the initiative to seek help for alcohol dependence is both brave and essential for well-being. It’s a pivotal move towards breaking free from the chains of addiction and regaining control over one’s life.

Plenty of resources, from rehabilitation centers to 12-step programs, are at the disposal of those grappling with alcohol addiction. Additionally, engaging in one-on-one counseling sessions, whether with a behavioral health therapist or an addiction specialist, can shed light on the root causes and underlying issues leading to alcohol misuse.

Open conversations about addiction with loved ones not only foster understanding but also strengthen the support system, a critical element in the journey toward recovery.

Medications may also form part of a treatment plan to assist with detoxification and keeping cravings at bay during recovery. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), acamprosate, disulfiram, and naltrexone are the top three medications used to combat alcohol use disorder.

At Zinnia Health, we understand how much of a challenge and commitment to tackling an alcohol addiction can be. That’s why our experienced team has developed in-depth addiction treatment programs for those dealing with alcohol use disorder. We use evidence-based approaches to reduce the risk of relapses. Call our 24/7 hotline to speak to a team member at (855) 430-9439.


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